Friday the 13th may be a time for worry for the more superstitiously inclined. But for those who turned out to gaze at the night sky in the wee hours of the morning, it was also a chance to see something truly rare and beautiful. It’s what’s known as a “honey moon”, and one which won’t happen again in our lifetime.
Basically, a honey moon is something that happens during the summer solstice when the sun’s path across the sky at its highest during this month and the moon at its lowest, which keeps the lunar orb close to the horizon and makes it appear more amber than other full moons this year.
The amber colors are due to the scattering of longer wavelengths of light by dust and pollution in our atmosphere. As astronomer Raminder Signh Samra of the H.R. MacMillian Space Centre in Vancouver said:
It is a similar phenomenon as seen at sunset, when sunlight is scattered towards the red end of the spectrum, making the sun’s disk appear orange-red to the naked-eye.
The most spectacular part of the honey moon begins hours before midnight, due to an illusion by which the moon appears larger to sky-watchers when it’s near the horizon than when it hangs high in the sky. It reached it’s full phase last night at 12:13 am EDT, at least for those of us living in North America.
Scientists are not entirely sure what accounts for this optical illusion of a larger moon near the horizon, but they suspect it has something to do with the human mind trying to make sense of the moon’s proximity to more familiar objects like mountains, trees and houses in the foreground.
The monthly full moon always looks like a big disk, but because its orbit around the Earth is egg-shaped, there are times when the moon it is at its shortest distance from Earth (called perigee), some 362,065 km (224,976 miles) away. This month the perigee just happened to coincide with the full phase.
Hence why it may have made it appear unusually large to some keen-eyed sky-watchers. As Samra explained:
The moon illusion should be more prominent during this full moon as it will graze closer to the horizon than at any other time of the year. This will make the moon appear more amber than other full moons of the year.
A full moon coinciding on Friday the 13th is not all that uncommon, occurring every three or so years. But having the combination of a honey moon and Friday the 13th is rare, last occurring on June 13, 1919. As for the next, we’ll have to wait until June 13, 2098, for the next one.
In short, stellar events like this one – where’s there’s a perfect conjunction between the occult and the night sky – only happen once every 80 or 90 years. So if you missed last night’s and are sad about it… Well, the good news is they are doing great things in medicine these days!
And if guys like Kurzweil are to be believed, clinical Immortality is just a few decades away. Until next time, be sure to keep your eyes to the heavens. Some interesting things happen there, apparently!